Two summers ago, following a game in our 35-and-up baseball league, I posed the following question to my teammates: Anybody been to jail?
Almost every hand went up. Mine was among two or three that didn’t.
One guy had been locked up on domestic violence charges (he told us he was innocent, by the way, despite the 30 days he’d spent in the Cobb Co. jail). Several had DUIs or public drunk charges that dated back to college. One mild-mannered outfielder had actually gotten caught stealing a car as a kid, which kind of blew us all away.
My team wasn’t exactly composed of miscreants. The coach was an engineer. Two pitchers were medical professionals. We had some high-salary salesman types. We had blue collar workers. All of them seemed stable and mature. Most had families.
Typically, when we produce TV stories about folks who land in jail, the accused is depicted as an irredeemable screwup at best, a psychopath at worst.
When I met Kevin Fidler in the Gwinnett County Jail during a shoot one evening, I found that I had an unaccustomed measure of sympathy for his plight. He’d been charged with DUI. Police told me he blew a .08 in a roadside test, the bare minimum for drunk driving. The 55-year old said he’d gone to dinner with his wife, had a couple of beers, and drove home. A Snellville cop intercepted him. Fidler said he’d never been to jail before, and his story checked out.
Fidler’s story became the thread for a WXIA piece that I produced (and shot and edited) on the intake / booking area at the Gwinnett County Jail. It was a Friday night, and the place was pretty jumpin.’
Butch Conway, the Sheriff of Gwinnett County, deserves praise for allowing us the access. He told the deputy in charge to let us shoot whatever we wanted. His PIO, Stacey Bourbonnais, took a laudable hands-off approach to managing us; she opted to stay home that night. Conway may run one of the most accessible jails in America, media-wise. It stands in stark contrast to other jails and state prisons whose administrators consider their facilities to be more high-security than Guantanamo. Jails consume a boatload of tax money. They ought to be reasonably accessible.
Fidler was among a few dozen folks charged with DUI that night. The others I encountered were in much worse shape than he was. A coworker said Fidler struck her as the kind of guy who would go play a round of golf with her dad, then have a couple of beers in the clubhouse afterward.
Or maybe, a guy who’d have a beer or two with the guys after killing a night on a baseball diamond.
I’m to blame for this video, shot with a camcorder with no manual focus setting. Oh — and the Nuts need pitchers this season. If you can throw a curve and / or a changeup for strikes and want to play weeknights, holler.